Start-up of the day: Energy Floors is making smart parking spaces in Rotterdam

Over the coming year, Rotterdam’s Energy Floors wants to sell smart surfaces for public outdoor spaces that generate data, measuring how many cars, pedestrians and cyclists are passing by. These can be used to regulate traffic flows and lighting, for instance. These Smart Energy Floors also generate energy via the solar cells that are integrated in them. At the moment, the Rotterdam municipality is on the lookout for a suitable location for the application of this kind of energy surface in a city parking lot, says Michel Smit, CEO of Energy Floors. A trial of this is planned for 2020 in cooperation with the Engie energy company.

What motivated you to set up Energy Floors and what problem has this resolved?

“Our first idea was to create a Sustainable Dance Floor on which people can dance to generate energy, something that you can actually see because the tiles light up. (By converting the vertical movement of the dancer on the floor into rotational movement through a mechanism underneath the flexible floor tiles so as to generate energy, ed.) That idea originally came from two companies: Enviu and Döll. In 2017, they brought me in as a hands-on expert from the club scene. I had been running a large nightclub in Rotterdam for four years, called Off-Corso. They wanted to bring sustainability to the attention of young people and thought that the Sustainable Dance Floor could help with that.

Unlike today, it was difficult to get young people interested in sustainable energy at that time. It had a bit of a stuffy image. We initially tried out that first version of that dance floor at the Rotterdam pop stage Watt (which went bankrupt in 2010, ed.) – that made it the first sustainable club in the world. We started building our business around that first Sustainable Dance Floor.”

What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

“That we had customers for the Sustainable Dance Floor before we had the actual product. At first, we only had a drawing of the floor, an artist’s impression. We worked out the concept and technology with TU Delft and TU/e in Eindhoven. And together with Daan Roosegaarde, we were able to further develop the interaction between the public and the technology. This is where our Sustainable Dance Floor is unique: the interaction between people and sustainably-generated energy. When they dance harder, they generate more energy.

This is what we want to offer people when it comes to our business proposition. That they themselves have an influence on improving the sustainability of energy. We want commitment. This is what we are specifically focusing on. The second obstacle was how we could go about expanding the scale for things that this product can be used for. So that it has a real impact. That’s why we wanted a surface that was suitable for large permanent fixtures in outdoor areas. We had to drop our initial unique selling point – as in ‘human energy’ – for this type of surface. Instead, we came up with our Smart Energy Floor. We use solar energy rather than kinetic energy. Otherwise, the project would be impossible to complete. The system has to be cost-effective, robust and resistant to wear and tear.”

What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

“That we sold 25 of those Smart Energy Floors to schools last year. Three of them in Germany and the rest in The Netherlands. As a company, we have three business propositions: the Dancer for clubs and discotheques, for example, the Gamer for schoolyards and the Walker for large outdoor facilities. The first Walker in the Netherlands is located near Croeselaan in Utrecht on a crossing opposite Rabobank’s head office. Rabo has partly financed this floor. There is also one in the palace garden of the President of Malta. He found us via Google. It is a public garden with a Gamer and a Walker. A Gamer costs 13,000 euros including the installation. While a Walker is available from 25,000 euros.

The fact that we appeal to people all over the world doesn’t surprise us at all. Our first signed contract was with the producer of Absolute Vodka. He wanted to make a road show around New York with our dance floor in 2009. So, that’s what we did. We get two to three requests a day. Our challenge is to be able to deal with these properly. Because we want to keep on innovating too. As an example, you could also use the Smart Energy Floor on motorways if you developed the software for that.”

 What can we expect from Energy Floors over the coming year?

“We want to start selling more Walkers. This is a new market for us that has a lot of potential. Smart city projects that you can use it in are much larger projects than what we have done so far. You could equip bike paths with our technology so that you can turn them into walkways. We are going to do a smart parking trial next year together with Engie and the municipality of Rotterdam. We will be installing  a Walker for that reason. The energy generated by the solar cells in the surface goes to the electricity grid and can subsequently be used to charge cars. Currently, we’re looking around for a suitable location.

We are also planning to enter the German market. This fits in well with our product and company. There is plenty of capital there and focus on sustainability. And the German way of doing business isn’t that different from the Dutch way of doing business.”

What is your ultimate goal?

“Ultimately, we want our Smart Energy Floors to be used in all the world’ s major cities and have their data connected to each other. You can learn a lot from each other’s experiences. You could monitor and influence the behaviour of the users of our surfaces on city roads. For example, in order to regulate busy situations at certain locations. You can apply the technology in a smart way. If there are very few people driving or walking on the road, you could turn the lights off in the evening.”

TU Eindhoven is bringing hydrogen as a source of energy for households one step closer

Vlag TU Eindhoven

A fridge-sized electrolyzer for each neighbourhood: this device stores all the energy from the solar panels on the roofs in the neighbourhood during the day as hydrogen. Underground gas pipes then transport hydrogen to the homes where the central heating boiler has been replaced by a fuel cell. This converts the stored hydrogen back into electricity. For Emiel Hensen, professor and dean of the Faculty of Chemical Technology at the Eindhoven University of Technology, this is more than just a dream. Thanks to an invention by his research group together with Chinese, Singaporean and Japanese researchers, Hensen has developed a catalyst that makes the storage of energy in hydrogen 20 times more effective.

Together with other Eindhoven researchers and a group of industrial partners from Brabant, Hensen is working on setting up an energy institute at the Eindhoven University of Technology to accelerate the development of this technology.

How does it work?

professor Emiel Hensen, Molecular Catalysis, inorganic materials chemistry, Scheikundige Technologie, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven

Catalysts accelerate chemical reactions, but the widely used metal platinum is scarce and expensive. Researchers have now developed an alternative with a 20times higher activity: a catalyst with hollow nanocages of an alloy of nickel and platinum. Hensen wants to use this new catalyst to develop a refrigerator-size electrolyzer of about 10 megawatts in the future. The results are published today * in the journal Science.

By 2050, the Dutch government aims to get almost all of the Netherlands’ energy requirements from sustainable sources, such as the sun or the wind. Because these energy sources are not available at all times, it is important to be able to store the generated energy. Given their low energy density, batteries are not suitable for storing very large amounts of energy. A better solution is chemical bonds, with hydrogen as the most obvious choice of gas. Using water, an electrolyzer converts (an excess of) electrical energy into hydrogen, which can be stored. At a later stage, a fuel cell does the opposite, converting the stored hydrogen back into electrical energy. Both technologies require a catalyst to drive the process.

The catalyst that helps with these conversions is – due to its high activity – mostly made of platinum. But platinum is very expensive and relatively scarce; a problem if we want to use electrolyzers and fuel cells on a large scale. TU/e catalysis professor, Emiel Hensen: “Fellow researchers from China, therefore, developed an alloy of platinum and nickel, which reduces costs and increases activity.” An effective catalyst has a high activity; it converts more water molecules into hydrogen every second. Hensen continues: “At TU/e, we investigated the influence of nickel on the key reaction steps and to this end we developed a computer model based on images from an electron microscope. With quantum chemical calculations, we were able to predict the activity of the new alloy, and we could understand why this new catalyst is so effective.”

Successfully tested

In addition to the other choice of metal, the researchers were also able to make significant changes to the morphology. The atoms in the catalyst have to bond with the water and/or oxygen molecules to be able to convert them. More binding sites will, therefore, lead to a higher activity. Hensen: “You want to make as much metal surface available as possible. The developed hollow nanocages can be accessed from the outside as well as from the inside. This creates a large surface area, allowing more material to react at the same time.” In addition, Hensen has demonstrated with quantum chemical calculations that the specific surface structures of the nanocages increase the activity even further.

After calculations in Hensen’s model, it turns out that the activity of both solutions combined is 20 times higher than that of the current platinum catalysts. The researchers have also found this result in experimental tests in a fuel cell. “An important criticism of a lot of fundamental work is that it does its thing in the lab, but when someone puts it in a real device, it often doesn’t work. We have shown that this new catalyst works in a real application.” The stability of a catalyst must be such that it can continue to work in a hydrogen car or house for years to come. The researchers, therefore, tested the catalyst for 50,000 ‘laps’ in the fuel cell and saw a negligible decrease in activity.

The possibilities for this new catalyst are manifold. Both in the form of the fuel cell and the reverse reaction in an electrolyzer. For example, fuel cells are used in hydrogen-powered cars while some hospitals already have emergency generators with hydrogen-powered fuel cells. An electrolyzer can be used, for example, on wind farms at sea or perhaps even next to every single wind turbine. Transporting hydrogen is much cheaper than transporting electricity.

Hensen’s dream goes further: “I hope that we will soon be able to install an electrolyzer in every neighbourhood. This refrigerator-sized device stores all the energy from the solar panels on the roofs in the neighbourhood during the daytime as hydrogen. The underground gas pipelines will transport hydrogen in future, and the domestic central heating boiler will be replaced by a fuel cell, the latter converting the stored hydrogen back into electricity. That’s how we can make the most of the sun.”

But for this to happen, the electrolyzer still needs to undergo considerable development. Together with other TU/e researchers and industrial partners from the Brabant region, Hensen is therefore involved in the start-up of the energy institute of TU Eindhoven. The aim is to scale up the current commercial electrolyzers to a refrigerator-size electrolyzer of about 10 megawatts.

* This research is published in Science on November 15th, with the title ‘Engineering Bunched Pt-Ni Alloy Nanocages for Efficient Oxygen Reduction in Practical Fuel Cells’.

TU Eindhoven spin-off MaxWaves shows new antenna technology for extremely fast 5G and 6G

Whole series of devices connected simultaneously and without loss of function; downloading complete films in seconds; autonomous cars: the extremely fast 5G network should make all this possible. The problem is that the fastest form of 5G requires very fast wireless connections that now only work over short distances. This is why a new antenna technology has been developed at the Eindhoven University of Technology that allows this fast form of 5G – and its successor 6G – to communicate over long distances. Recently, the first practical test was successfully carried out from the roof of two buildings on the Eindhoven campus.

The next generation of wireless networks, 5G, is expected to be rolled out commercially by 2020. This is the first phase, with relatively low frequencies, only slightly faster than 4G. But: the higher the frequency, the more data you can send. That is why the world is also working towards a form of 5G that works at much higher frequencies – 26 GHz to be precise. Then the capacity increases by a factor of one hundred, which is necessary for autonomous cars, for example.

The enormous increase in data speed in 5G requires that the wireless connections between base stations also have enormous capacity. That is why even higher frequencies of 80 GHz will be used for this purpose. “The problem with sending signals at these high frequencies is that they are only strong enough at very short distances,” says Bart Smolders, professor of telecommunications at the Eindhoven University of Technology.

Electronically coupled antennas

This is why for years already, work has been going on at the university on antennas that enable signals at these high frequencies to be transmitted over longer distances. The technology uses a series of electronically coupled antennas, which electronically direct the radio beams in the right direction, combined with a satellite dish that focuses the energy and increases the distance. This technology has been further developed within TU Eindhoven-spin-off MaxWaves into a demonstrator, the first step towards a prototype.

“The antennas bundle multiple radio waves into a very narrow, strong radio signal, comparable to a laser beam”, says Ronis Maximidis, PhD candidate and co-founder of MaxWaves. According to Maximidis, this enables a 100 times greater signal strength, which means that a five times greater distance can be achieved than with the current techniques.

The high-frequency signals require that the transmitting and receiving antennas are directed exactly towards each other, in all weather conditions. Maximidis: “Our system electronically aligns the antenna beams, so that the dishes containing the antennas do not have to move mechanically.”

Live demo

The system was recently tested in practice for the first time. From the roof of two buildings on the campus of the Eindhoven University of Technology, a connection has been successfully established with the antennas, about 700 metres in length. “With this test, we have shown that our concept works outside the lab. The next step is now to build a prototype. Our goal is to provide the whole world with 5G and 6G, even in the most remote areas”, says Maximidis.

The wind tunnel proves it, says Lightyear: this car is the most aerodynamic in the world.

The Lightyear One, the solar car built in Helmond of which the first prototype was unveiled in June, will, according to the engineers of the young company, be more aerodynamic than any other car in the world. This was demonstrated in recent wind tunnel tests carried out at the Eindhoven University of Technology. There, an air resistance coefficient of less than 0.20 was measured, which they consider being a first. The Lightyear people keep the exact data a secret for another while: this will only be announced after the car has been fully developed.

“Lightyear One is more than a car which a solar panel is attached to”, says the company in a blog post about the wind tunnel tests. “It is special because of its efficiency-driven design, which allows it to get the most out of every ray of sunlight. Whether it be about aerodynamics, efficient energy or material use, Lightyear One is built to perform.”

In order to achieve the highest possible range, most electric car manufacturers work with the largest possible battery capacity. Lightyear chose another solution, partly because of the extra weight of these batteries: solar panels combined with aerodynamics and the highest possible efficiency. As a result, Lightyear One should be able to achieve up to 60 km of extra range per day, not only thanks to the efficiency of the 5 square meters of solar cells but also because of a design optimized for minimal energy consumption, the company says.

The elongated shape of the car was initially designed to accommodate as many solar cells as possible, but now it is also helping to streamline the design of the car. Next to the solutions already known from other cars, such as wheel arches and the replacement of side mirrors by side cameras, the length of the vehicle also helps with this. In addition, using light composite materials and a smaller battery, Lightyear One drastically reduces weight and was able to enter a ‘lightweight cycle’: by making one part of the car lighter and more efficient, other parts can also become lighter.

Another helpful feature is the choice of four light in-wheel engines to replace the central engine, making the transmission of energy more efficient.

Based on all these differences, Lightyear claims to be up to twice as efficient as ordinary electric cars, allowing longer distances to be covered without recharging in between.

Multimillion euro grant brings artificial womb for premature babies one step closer

The realization of an artificial womb has come one step closer, thanks to a new €2.9 million grant from the EU program Horizon 2020 for researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology. The goal of the artificial womb is to increase the chances of survival for extremely premature babies outside the body. Just one year ago, the artificial womb was presented as a first design during the Dutch Design Week. This grant will make it possible to create a working prototype within five years. Professors Frans van de Vosse and Loe Feijs from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) and professor Guid Oei from Máxima Medical Center (MMC) and TU/e initiated the European consortium that received the grant.

An artificial womb serves as a replacement for an incubator and artificial respiration. It is much more natural, because it resembles the conditions in an actual womb more closely. “Our goal with the artificial womb is to help extremely premature babies get through the critical period of 24 to 28 weeks,” says Guid Oei, gynecologist at MMC and part-time professor at TU/e. The chances of survival for these babies are low; approximately half of the babies that are born at 24 weeks die. And the ones that survive often suffer from lifelong chronic disorders such as brain damage, respiratory problems and/or retinal conditions that can possibly cause blindness. “With each day a fetus of 24 weeks continues to develop in an artificial womb, the chances of survival will increase. If we are able to prolong the fetal development of these children in the artificial womb to 28 weeks, we will have reduced the most serious risk of premature mortality to 15%,” Oei says.

Support in decision-making

Frans van de Vosse, TU Eindhoven. Foto © Bart van Overbeeke

“We will use different technologies to create the artificial womb”, says Frans van de Vosse, project coordinator and professor of Cardiovascular Biomechanics at the department of Biomedical Engineering at TU/e. “Premature babies are placed in a fluid-based environment, just like the natural womb. In this environment, there is no artificial respiration via the lungs. Instead, oxygen and nutrients are provided via an umbilical cord using an artificial placenta. The system that makes this possible constantly monitors the baby’s condition. Think of heart rate and oxygen supply, but also of brain and muscle activity. Smart computer models that simulate the baby’s condition provide the doctor with immediate support in the decision-making process with regard to the artificial womb’s settings.”

The Industrial Design of Embedded Systems group under supervision of Loe Feijs is active within the project as well. The group is developing a fetal practice doll that can accurately simulate extremely premature babies in an intensive care ward. This makes it possible to evaluate the artificial womb in a realistic test setting before it is used in clinics.

Five years’ time

“During the next five years, we will conduct further research and test these technologies in a European collaboration, and continue to develop them until we manage to realize a first prototype of an artificial womb. That is a wonderful challenge,” says Guid Oei. This European consortium was initiated by TU/e and MMC, in collaboration with LifeTec Group, Nemo Healthcare, Politecnico di Milano and Universitätsklinikum Aachen. The partners of this consortium are trained in the different sub-areas of expertise that are needed to develop the artificial womb. By sharing expertise and combining forces, they aim to bring the realization of the artificial womb a big step closer.

‘Artificial leaf’ produces medicine using sunlight for the first time – anywhere you want it

Making malaria drugs in the jungle? Paracetamol on Mars? Being able to produce medicines cheaply and everywhere, with sunlight as an energy source might become a reality very soon. Chemists from the Eindhoven University of Technology are presenting a “mini-reactor” that, similar to leaves in nature, absorbs sunlight and drives chemical reactions. As an ultimate demonstration, they succeeded in having the reactor actually produce two types of medicine, the antimalarial artemisinin and the antiparasitic drug ascaridole. In the magazine Angewandte Chemie, they describe how this reactor can be easily scaled up, can be used for a wide range of chemical reactions and maintains stable production under changing weather conditions. The technology, which has the potential to strongly green the pharmaceutical industry, therefore seems ready for commercial upscaling.

The reactor that the team led by Timothy Noel is now presenting is a refinement of the artificial leaf mini-reactor presented by the team in 2016. The prototype used nature as an example in overcoming the core obstacle of using solar energy to make chemical products, something scientists dreamed about for years. The problem is that the available sunlight generates too little energy to kick off reactions. The researchers succeeded thanks to a trick that they copied from leaves in nature. They designed very thin channels in so-called Luminescent Solar Concentrators (LSCs), a silicon rubber, much in the way veins run through a leaf.

Timothy Noël TU Eindhoven

Sunlight activates the molecules of the liquids running through the microchannels and starts a chemical reaction. The combination of confining light and the microchannels made the light intensity high enough for the reactions to take place. In 2018, the team announced they’d developed a mechanism to stabilise production, regardless of variations in direct sunlight. Their feedback system, which costs less than 10 euros, can speed or slow production to match variations in intensity.

In the reactor that the team now presents, the silicone rubber has been replaced by PMMA (Polymethyl methacrylate or Plexiglas). “This material is cheaper and easy to make in larger quantities. It also has a higher refractive index, so that the light stays better confined”, says Noël. “But the most important thing is that we can add more types of light-sensitive molecules in PMMA. As a result, in principle all chemical reactions are now possible in this reactor across the entire width of the visible light spectrum.”

In the publication in Angewandte Chemie, the researchers show the versatility of the reactor by completing various chemical reactions. Two of these comprise the production of a drug: the antimalarial artimesinin and ascaridole, a defense against parasitic worms. This makes the reactor ready for practice. For example, as a local medicine factory in places that are difficult to reach: malaria drugs in the jungle and even paracetamol on Mars are possible in theory. “With this reactor, you can make medicines wherever you want,” says Noel. “You only need sunlight and this mini-factory.”

The reactor has the potential to solve a dire problem for the pharmaceutical industry, namely the increasing pressure to produce in a sustainable way. The chemical reactions for producing drugs currently require toxic chemicals and a lot of energy in the form of fossil fuels. By using visible light the same reactions become sustainable, cheap and, in theory, countless times faster.

Noël: “There are hardly any obstacles to putting this technology in practice, except for the fact that it only works during daylight. Artificial leaves are perfectly scalable; anywhere the sun is, it works. The reactors can be easily scaled, and its inexpensive and self-powered nature makes them ideally suited for the cost-effective production of chemicals with solar light. I am therefore very positive that we should be able to run a commercial trial of this technology within a year. All this would require is a partnership with a pharmaceutical company that is interested.”

Major grant for research into ethically responsible technology

Researchers from Dutch universities are launching a major new research programme into the ethics of disruptive technologies. The ethicists, philosophers and technical scientists have received a grant of 17.9 million euros from the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The research should lead to a better moral understanding of the changes that groundbreaking innovations like artificial intelligence and molecular biology have on society. The ten-year programme is a collaboration between the University of Twente, TU Delft, Utrecht University and TU Eindhoven, in which Wageningen University & Research, Leiden University and Utrecht University Medical Centre also participate.

New technologies are currently shooting up like mushrooms. They include innovations in the fields of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, nanomedicine, molecular biology, neurotechnology and climate technology. These technologies will have a major impact on everyday life and can contribute to solving issues such as climate change and the depletion of raw materials.

But they also raise moral questions that call for ethical reflection. Values such as privacy, freedom and equality, the boundary between natural and artificial, and the perception of freedom and responsibility are increasingly being challenged.

Disruptive

The researchers argue that these developments require a “reorientation in the field of the ethics of technology”. Within the programme they will be developing new methods needed to understand the new disruptive technologies, to evaluate them from a moral perspective, and, if necessary, to intervene in the way in which the technology continues to develop. An additional goal is to renew ethics and philosophy in a broad sense by investigating how modern technology changes the meaning of classical ethical values and philosophical concepts.

The programme is not only unique in the Netherlands but also internationally. The Dutch scientists, including TU Eindhoven professors Wijnand IJsselsteijn and Anthonie Meijers, are among the world leaders in their field.

Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies
Prof. dr. P.A.E. Brey (Universiteit Twente), Prof. dr. ir. I.R. van de Poel (TU Delft), Prof. dr. I.A.M. Robeyns (Universiteit Utrecht), Prof. dr. S. Roeser (TU Delft), Prof. dr. ir. P.P.C.C. Verbeek (Universiteit Twente), Prof. dr. W.A. IJsselsteijn (TU Eindhoven).
Participating institutes: Universiteit Twente, TU Delft, Universiteit Utrecht and TU Eindhoven, Wageningen University & Research, Universiteit Leiden, Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht

AI

The research at TU Eindhoven will focus on the influence of biomedical and digital technologies on the self-image and self-understanding of people. Concepts such as autonomy, corporality, mortality and transcendence will be called into question by innovations such as genetic manipulation and artificial intelligence.

Take for instance stem cell research into diseases such as Parkinson’s, that increasingly makes use of hybrid human-animal embryos. What does this imply for the distinction between humans and animals, which for so long has determined our norms and values, and our legislation?

IJsselsteijn is very pleased with the grant. “Technical universities have a role and responsibility when it comes to the human, social and ecological consequences of technology. The grant underlines the importance of ethical reflection and accountability in technical innovations, and gives us the means to renew the ethics themselves where necessary”.

“Technical universities have a role and responsibility when it comes to the human, social and ecological consequences of technology.”

Gravitation

The project is the first in the field of philosophy to receive a contribution from the so-called Gravitation programme. The programme, which is financed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, focuses on excellent scientific research programmes. The Dutch Research Council (NWO), the national science financier, supervises the programme on behalf of the Ministry. In this round, six projects received a total contribution of 113.5 million euros. The contribution will enable top researchers to undertake innovative research of a fundamental character for a ten-year period.

With Hable Accessibility, the European Venture Programme gets a Dutch winner

Last year it was a TU München student who ran off with the first prize, this year the jury couldn’t help but designate a local Eindhoven candidate as the winner of the European Venture Programme. Ayushman Talwar from Hable Accessibility proved to be the best of a group of twenty tech-entrepreneurs from all over Europe after a process of writing and pitching. “We felt a bit anxious to appoint a local winner here in Eindhoven, but Hable simply had the most interesting concept”, said jury chairman Carmen van Vilsteren at the announcement. The prize for the best ‘two-pager’ went to Fanny Boutier of EPFL Lausanne with her start-up Nuage.

Read more about the set-up of the European Venture Programme here.

The European Venture Programme is an annual entrepreneurship programme for students and researchers from one of the EuroTech universities: TU Eindhoven, DTU Copenhagen, TU München, EPFL Lausanne, École Polytechnique Paris and Technion from Haifa. Each participant represents a startup created at the university and is given the opportunity to broaden their horizons by visiting several European cities. In all these places, they look for international opportunities for their company.

“Most engineers have mastered the technical development of a product. The programme is intended to further develop other aspects of entrepreneurship,” explains Steven van Huiden, coordinator of the programme in Eindhoven. For example, the programme focuses on the value proposition, marketing, sales and finance. “In this way, entrepreneurs gain more knowledge and immediately learn to think internationally.” This fits in well with the mission of the cooperation between the Eurotech universities.

Ayushman Talwar competed in the final against Camilo Toloza Albarracin (Dymium, TU Munich), Dennis van Ravenstein (MapsUntold, TU Eindhoven) and Mukesh Narendran (EcoOil, DTU Copenhagen). Their solutions for kidney stones, tourism and ecological fuel were defeated by Talwar’s concept of allowing blind people to make better use of their smartphones.

Take a look at the four pitches in the finals here:

In addition to the four finalists (who each got two minutes to make their point), the other participants also had the opportunity to tell something about their start-up in 30 seconds time. See them all here:

Hable also won a Gerard & Anton Award at IO’s annual startups-to-watch earlier this summer. Hable also won the ASML Makers Award at TU/e Contest 2018 and the Philips Innovation Rough Diamond Award.

TU Eindhoven’s Sjoerd Romme is the first European scholar to receive the Career Achievement Award from Academy of Management

TU Eindhoven Professor Sjoerd (Georges) Romme is the recipient of this year’s Distinguished Scholar-Practitioner career achievement award of the Academy of Management (AOM). He received the award last Sunday in Boston, at the AOM’s Annual Meeting. Romme is the first European scholar receiving this award.

The award is given annually in recognition of long-term, significant contributions to research that has affected the practice of management. Since its inception in 2003, the prize has been awarded to American scholars only, from institutions like MIT, Harvard and London Business School.

The award committee applauds Rommes’ “strong influence on the practice of management”, and his strong publishing record. “His influence has been used in the implementation activities of numerous firms and has also stimulated new research aimed at bridging the gap between theory and practice. The broad impact of his contributions as a scholar and practitioner has brought lasting and now multiplying benefits to the field. Additionally, he has taken on service roles to improve the rigour and relevance of university curricula, at multiple universities. ”

Romme, who is a professor of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Eindhoven University of Technology, focusses on research on technology entrepreneurship, innovation management, organization design, organizational renewal, and professional corporate governance. From 2007 to 2014, Romme also was the dean of the TU/e Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences department.

The Academy of Management is the preeminent professional association for management, organization and entrepreneurship scholars. It has more than 20,000 members in 120 countries around the world.

The prize award is also announced on the AOM website.

Smart surfaces which make robots sweat and let the body absorb medical fluids

Danqing Liu, assistant professor at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry of TU Eindhoven, is receiving more than 400,000 euros in order to develop smart surfaces that can secrete fluids and absorb them n response to light or to electric fields from their environment. These surfaces will be used to study friction during motion, for self-cleaning systems, and for robotic and health care applications.

The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has awarded three million euros to seven early-stage researchers in physics and chemistry through the START-UP program. Liu is one of them.

Secretion is a common phenomenon in nature. Human skin secretes oil to defend our bodies against bacteria and sweat to regulate our body temperature. Fish secrete mucus from their skin so as to protect against parasites and reduce friction from water in order to swim faster. Inspired by the skins of living creatures, Danqing Liu develops smart surfaces that can repeatedly release and reabsorb substances under environmental stimuli such as light and electricity.

Controlled release of liquid from surface areas is important for self-cleaning systems, where the released lubricant modifies surface moisture and repels attachment of various contaminants. Also, it can be used for biomedical purposes, such as skin patches, in controlling humidity and slowly release antibiotics to cure wounds. And, in a not too distant future, smart surfaces could even be used as ‘artificial skins’ for robots.

The body produces heat

Walking, exercising, lifting objects or simply standing still. Every time we use our muscles, they produce heat as a by-product. The more we use them, the more they have to be actively cooled down. This is why we sweat. By sweating, water is pumped out of our bodies, and as that water evaporates, it cools us down.

In robots, especially in humanoid robots which place high torque demands on their motors, generated heat presents a major constraint on their performance. Currently, engineers solve this problem by using fans or bulky radiators, which take up space and add mass. In the future, the smart surfaces developed by Liu might be used to develop artificial skins which could ‘make robots sweats, cool down and perform better’.

Responsive materials

With a broad background in various disciplines ranging from electrical to mechanical and chemical engineering, Liu attempts to fill the gap between molecular sciences – such as synthetic organic chemistry – and material science. “I develop new materials like silicons, hydrogels and liquid crystal polymers, on sub-micrometric scales,”  she explains. These materials are ‘responsive’, meaning that they can sense external stimuli and adapt to those via built-in sensory systems. The latter are either intrinsically present in the material itself or they can be integrated as optical, electrical or chemical sensors.

Foldable energy tower for festivals is ready for practical use

Almost all festivals in Europe use toxic diesel generators as their power supply. As a sustainable alternative, TU Eindhoven researchers and 9 companies have developed a 21-meter high fold-out tower with solar energy panels and a wind turbine. This week the ‘GEM-tower’ was erected on the TU Eindhoven campus in full for the first time, ahead of the first practical test which is to take place next week during the Pukkelpop music festival in Belgium.

More on the GEM Tower: Powering music festivals with sustainable energy

The pollutant nature of festivals had been a thorn in the side of associate professor of Innovative Structural Design Faas Moonen for years. He began work in 2017 on a sustainable alternative, with the help of a 2.3 million-euro subsidy from Interreg Europe. He has since appointed a postdoc and three PhD Engineering researchers to assist him. Nine companies are currently working on his dream, including the festival organizers of Pukkelpop and Eurosonic Noorderslag (Groningen).

Ready for the first extensive tests

Three PhD Eng. students from TU Eindhoven are working on the project: Floor van Schie (left), Marius Lazauskas (centre) en Patrick Lenaers (right).  © Bart van Overbeeke

The subsequent festival tower is now ready for the first extensive tests. “Eventually, a whole group of towers will be able to travel around the European festivals and provide them all with 100% sustainable energy,” says Moonen. “I’m also hoping that their striking appearance will make festival-goers more aware of sustainability.”

Although entirely sustainable solutions have already existed for some time, combining them was a major challenge for the research team. “We had to constantly find a balance between designing an appealing eye-catcher, being able to guarantee optimal safety and our desire to to generate as much energy as possible. That was quite a puzzle”, Moonen explains.

Sustainability is not just about generating energy: the tower itself is made of sustainable materials and thought has been given to the sustainable transport of this colossus. Although the precise yield of the tower has yet to be established via testing, it should be able to generate electricity for no less than 261 days per year. In addition, the base of the tower consists of a three-meter high battery pack that can store up to 90 kWh of electricity. Consequently, energy security can be guaranteed.

Most of the energy is generated by a vertical wind turbine weighing 700 kilograms and standing at a height of 18 meters. This height was chosen as wind blows hardest above 18 meters. If there’s no wind, the solar cells will ensure stable power generation. As many as 144 small, flexible thin-foil solar cells cover the tower. On top of that, the research team is supplying 72 large, flexible solar cells which festival organizers can put on the roofs of their food stalls, lavatory units or tents and connect to the tower’s battery pack.

40 multicolored solar energy collectors

The eye-catchers are the 40 multicolored solar energy collectors. These so-called LSC (Luminescent Solar Concentrator) panels were developed at TU Eindhoven by Prof. Michael Debije’s research team in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry. The panels catch incoming rays of light on their plates and transfer them to the edges. In the frames of the panels are solar cells that convert these concentrated light beams into electricity. Moonen: “Because the LSC panels do not need direct sunlight, they are more widely applicable than solar cells. They harness energy in both the shade and in the sun. They still continue to produce electricity even on a completely cloudy day.”

“A crane is still required in order to unfold the current model, although eventually the end product will unfold automatically at the push of a button. © Bart van Overbeeke

The tower has been designed to be foldable in order to also make transportation more sustainable. It takes less than a day to assemble as a result. The 3500-kilogram steel part of the tower is folded up to be about one meter thick and can be folded out up to a height of 14 meters. The whole mechanism is attached with 300 joints and 542 bolts. A crane is still required in order to unfold the current model however the next design aims to unfold automatically at the push of a button.

Even more power

The coming year will be devoted to testing this tower. This model will be fully operational in 2020 and will travel to the festivals. Yet the research team is certainly not done after just the one tower. “We will then start building a new tower which will generate even more energy and can also be folded out automatically,” says Moonen enthusiastically. “Along with the towers, we also want to keep our eyes open for other forms of sustainable energy generation. My dream is to eventually provide all kinds of large-scale events with sustainable electricity via a network of batteries, towers, solar cells and other sustainable innovations – in summer or winter.”

This project, named GEM-tower (Green Energy Mill), has been honored as an Interreg Europe project, with the Eindhoven University of Technology as its leading partner. Faas Moonen is the TU/e  project leader and is supported by PhD engineering researchers Floor van Schie, Patrick Lenaers and Marius Lazauskas and postdoc Ester Pujadas-Gispert. Besides TU/e, nine other partners are also involved in the project: IBIS-Power, Double2, Pukkelpop, Off Grid Energy Limited, Dour, RPS, Eurosonic Noorderslag, Flexotels and ZAP. Visit the website for more information or to follow the project:

 

 

TU Eindhoven’s soccer robots and care robot win the world championships in Sydney

tech united sidney 2019

For the first time, both the soccer robots and the care robot of TU Eindhoven have become world champions. The robot football team Tech United won in the finals of Team Water from China; the care robot HERO also got the most points in its category. The RoboCup, which was in Sydney this year, is the annual international tournament for autonomous (self-directed) robots.

Tech United Sidney Tech United soccer robots have been given appropriate names this year, resembling those of the Dutch national women soccer team: Lieke Motors, Vivianne Wielema, Jackie Groenestroom, Dominique Bluetooth, Lineth Rekenbrein and goalkeeper Sari of Verenstaal. Photo © Tech United.

Tech United had made it through the preliminaries without any noteworthy cracks, but the final against Water from China was nerve-racking. It was only in the last minute of the race that Tech United made the equalizer with a shot from Lieke Motors. Also in the extra time, it remained exciting. Tech United did get a 5-4 lead due to an action by Dominique Bluetooth, but Lineth Rekenbrein only made the 6-4 a few moments before the end of the game. Team Water was strong in the attack and Tech United’s defence was put to the test several times. Vivianne Wielema was a surprising trump card within the Eindhoven team: it is a new kind of soccer robot with not three but eight wheels.

Tech United has also won a World Cup in the care robots category, with a good distance to the number two. This is the first time that the Eindhoven team is going home with two world cups.

Special strategy per opponent

During the football game, the students and researchers of the Eindhoven University of Technology have no contact with their robots: they play completely autonomously. Team captain Wouter Kuijpers: “The team has trained on various strategies for game rethinking such as throwing in and free kicks.” With a new piece of software, it is now possible to choose a strategy that is perfectly adapted to the opponent in question. In this way, a strategy could be used during the final, specially tailored to the Chinese rival Water, who had already met the Eindhoven team in the finals several times before. Both have won the championships several times.

Care robots

Tech United also played in the Domestic Standard Platform League for care robots. In this category all teams use the same robot, a Toyota HSR, but each team uses its own software. The Eindhoven HSR is called HERO. The Eindhoven robot excels in its ‘world model’, the digital representation of the world. The robot makes a 3D map of the walls, places all kinds of digital objects such as cabinets and benches in it, and there is a special code that explains that it is more convenient, for example, to stand in front of a cabinet instead of next to it.

During the ‘challenges’, the robots received assignments from the messaging service Telegram, such as “Find Josja in the living room” and “Take out the garbage”. Such tasks may seem simple, but there are still many challenges for robots. Not only does it need to make a digital map of the space, but the robot also needs to understand the task well, be able to recognize objects such as benches and cans, and finally, he needs to devise optimal strategies for different tasks.

Zorgrobot HERO asks for confirmation. Photo: Tech United.
Care robot HERO asks for confirmation. Photo © Tech United.

100 million euros, 50 professors for new Artificial Intelligence institute in Eindhoven: EAISI

EAISI, Frank Baaijens, Carlo van de Weijer @ Bart van Overbeeke

by Norbine Schalij, Cursor

TU Eindhoven is rapidly setting up an institute that is needed to create awareness of its education and research in the field of artificial intelligence among future students, the best researchers, the business sector and (European) financiers. This EAISI, led by Carlo van de Weijer (director of TU/e’s Strategic Area Smart Mobility), will be launched on September 2, 2019. His first tasks will be to attract fifty new full and associate professors and to find suitable accommodation.

As of next academic year, TU/e will have its own AI institute, so that everyone with an interest in artificial intelligence knows that they have to go to Eindhoven for education and research in this field. The institute will be known as the Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute. Its acronym EAISI sounds easy, according to dean Frank Baaijens.

“AI is relevant to every research field at TU/e, and it is crucial to all future high-tech systems.” Baaijens says that on further consideration, there seemed to be a serious overlap between three of the envisaged CRT’s (Cross Research Themes, described in the Strategy 2030, ed.), and that is why the university decided to quickly set up an AI institute. These three CRT’s will be part of this institute: Complex High Tech Systems, Data-driven Intelligent Systems, and Human-centered Systems and Environments.

Rapid Pace

The process of setting up this institute takes place at a rapid pace, despite the busy schedules of the professors who are involved. Carlo Van de Weijer: “I was asked for this a few months ago. This is the first presentation to the TU/e community, we still need to fill out the details. A team was set up, but we are inviting everyone to share their ideas with us. I mostly see motivated people who are willing to clear their schedule for this. TU/e is making a strong commitment with this hundred-million-euro investment.”

EAISI’s scientific mission is to collect and analyze data and to make real-time decisions in safety-critical situations based on that data. That means that these pieces of advice could have a serious impact on people’s lives, such as with self-driving cars and care robots. “That is exactly the specific role we see for TU/e. In the past, AI could be found primarily in the cyber world, at Google, booking.com, Spotify and other consumer platforms, Now, AI is evolving in the direction of fields in which TU/e has always been successful, such as High Tech Systems and Human Technology Interaction. At EAISI, the machines become intelligent,” says Van de Weijer.

Wijnand IJsselstein is a member of the scientific team at EAISI. Photo © Bart van Overbeeke

The intention is to attract fifty full professors, in addition to the hundred scientists who are already working in this field at TU/e. New and current employees will sign their contracts with the departments. When asked whether all new professors will be women, Van de Weijer replies with a smile that it is entirely up to the departments to make that decision.

Commotion

What Van de Weijer would like most is to see his student teams – AI is relevant to most of them – and the education and research in this field together in one location. The Laplace building, which is currently being renovated for educational purposes, will not be able to accommodate the Institute for another two years. That is why EAISI will start at the Gaslab on September 2.

“Our institute will be a major customer in terms of computing powers, so there is a nice symbolism to a location in the university’s former computing centre. Our goal is to create quite a stir there, an atmosphere comparable to the one in TU/e innovation Space. The second floor of Laplace needs to become an AI playground, with students and robots on the monkey bars,” so thinks EAISI’s director.

But it doesn’t stop just with play. In five years’ time, the institute will show results in several different fields. “Each year we want to raise thirty million euros from outside TU/e for research. We expect that the money will come from a collaboration between companies (plans have already been discussed with Philips, NXP and ASML), from the Dutch Research Council, and from European subsidy providers. A budget has been created for fifty full professors, who we will have to find within five years. That will be quite a challenge because AI specialists are in high demand, but we’re not afraid to take up that challenge.”

A hundred and fifty interested TU/e students and staff members heard the first plans last Monday afternoon. Next month, Van de Weijer and chairman of the Executive Board Robert-Jan Smits will join Prime Minister Mark Rutte, among others, on a trade mission “We will do all we can to present our EAISI plans during that mission. The brochures aren’t finished yet, but I will be carrying new business cards.”

Best read: after Tesla comes Tessie

June is drawing to a close, so it is time for the first monthly overview of the ‘Best read’ series. Surprisingly, the most read topic was not mobility, but gender. The stories about TU Eindhoven’s measure to hire only women for six months from 1 July attracted most readers both nationally and internationally. That women stand their ground in the field of innovation was evident this week at the presentation of our own Gerard and Anton Awards, which fortunately featured many ladies on stage. And this is important, because international research has long since shown that gender equality leads to better innovations!

The Top-5 of June

  1. By hiring only women, men will also benefit
  2. Helmondse start-up Dens haalt investering van €550.000 op
  3. ‘Dutch Mountains’ get a place in new station area Eindhoven
  4. Startups-to-watch: 10 new winners of the Gerard & Anton Awards
  5. Tomorrow is good: 130 times determination. Lightyear on the eve of the unveiling

Back to this week, where the unveiling of Lightyear One was a long-awaited highlight for innovative Netherlands. How cool would it be if the former winner of our own awards turns out to be the new Tesla in a year’s time, and our columnist and Lightyear PR manager Tessie will soon appear in this list? Like we said: Women rule!

Formic acid

Slightly overshadowed by last week’s female power, on the Automotive Campus in Helmond, Dens’ little brothers reached the second place in the best-read list. While everyone was talking about diesel versus electric, Max Aerts and his team developed engines and generators on…. formic acid. You have read about how that works on Innovation Origins over the past few years, because Aerts is another of our former winners.

However, our columnist and Smart Mobility director at TU Eindhoven Carlo van de Weijer is not interested in acidity. When asked, he appears to be a convinced supporter of the most important power source in our galaxy. “All cars will be powered by the sun. Maybe directly, lightyear style, or through solar cells on the roof that charge the car, or possibly through fuel made from the sun (it is possible to make petrol or natural gas or kerosene out of sunlight, CO2 and H2O). But that’s not hydrogen, I’m pretty sure.”

Euro commissioner Violeta Bulc: ‘I worry about the drop in female students entering technical universities ‘

Eurocommissioner Violeta Bulc in the middle: ‘Quotas, role models and encouraging women to apply for high tech jobs, will improve the gender balance of our teams’ – © Lucette Mascini

During the presentation from the Dutch company Hardt last week in Delft of their super fast floating train, Euro Commissioner of transport Violeta Bulc put in an appearance. We took the opportunity to ask her opinion on the measure taken by the Technical University of Eindhoven to only hire women for science jobs in the coming year and a half.

Bulc herself trained as an IT engineer at the university in Ljubljana in Slovenia. After that, she worked at several high tech companies in the US, was the managing director of Telekom Slovenia, and a CEO at Vibacom, a company that specializes in sustainable strategy and the innovation of ecosystems.

“I worry about the drop in female students at technical universities”, she told Innovation Origins in an exclusive interview. “It is our responsibility to bring awareness to this.”

The Technical University of Eindhoven recently announced that because women are severely underrepresented, they will only hire women for science jobs in the next one and a half years. What do you think about this measure?

„Well, I will tell you. I sincerely believe in quotas. So I do believe that we need not lower standards, but that we need to encourage women to apply for the jobs. The way we did it in the European Commission is that we set targets. Women should be represented in like 40 percent of the top jobs in the Commission. And within four years, we got that.”

So using quota for women works.

„It works.”

You were educated as an information technologist at the university of Ljubljana in Slovenia, in the 1980’s. How was this perceived in Slovenia at the time? Were you an exception to the rule? Or were there many women in IT?

„Well, I am from the second generation at the faculty for computer science and informatics at the university of in Ljubljana, and that was a part of the electrotechnical faculty of the university. So previously, there were may be 8 female students out of 400 students. But with the arrival of the faculty for computer science, we became one third of them! So, since then, women were no longer an exception to the rule. And I loved it. But I am a bit worried now. Because what we see now is that at the technical universities, there is a drop again in female students entering the university. So I think it is our responsibility to bring awareness to this. And, as I told you before, we have a special platform for women who want to work in the transport sector now. So, on the political level of the EU, we are encouraging women to enter the transport professions. And I think that is now more possible than before, as  digital technologies are coming in. There is a completely new standard for jobs. And also the working hours are just a bit different than before. So there will be more opportunities for female candidates to enter the transport sector.”

Is the underperformance of technical universities in hiring women a European problem?

„No, it’s global.”

What would be a solution on the European level for underperforming technical universities to attract women for jobs and education?

„Quotas. Role models. Encouraging female colleagues to apply for jobs. Apply for positions. For example in politics, it is important where you place the female candidates. Because too often the female candidates are placed in positions that are unelectable.”

You worked in San Francisco as an IT engineer from 1991 until 1994. Is the participation of women in tech jobs in the US better than in the EU? Does the EU have a competition problem because of this?

„Well, again: I was in the IT world. And, may be, we were not equally represented, but there were a lot female colleagues. I would say, maybe 30 percent, or even more, already at that time. So I think, within the high tech world, the digital world attracts more females than any other technical field does. Yet I can assure you that this group of women will become larger and larger in the coming years. And that I think that we will achieve much better, more sustainable solutions when we have better gender balance in our teams. Even in technical fields.

Detecting pressure ulcers in sweat and sebum

csm_Een vrijwilliger ondergaat een gecontroleerde belasting van het sacrum. Foto Jibbe Soetens_dbd803153c

Pressure ulcers are a major burden to patients, carers and the healthcare system. Particularly vulnerable populations are elderly, bedridden and spinal cord injured individuals. PhD researcher Jibbe Soetens investigated the response of the human skin to prolonged loading. Hospitals can use his results to detect and even predict pressure ulcers. Also the design of, for example, mattresses and wheelchairs can be improved with his findings. Soetens defended his dissertation at the Eindhoven University of Technology on 18 June 2019.

Prolonged loading on the skin can cause pressure ulcers. The loading leads to tissue deformation, causing local injury to the skin or underlying tissue. Current preventive methods are based on risk assessment and periodic control. However, these methods are subjective and there is a great need for more objective tools. Soetens discovered a set of indicators that enable early detection of pressure ulcer development. The set consists of metabolic and inflammatory biomarkers, of which the latter even have the potential to identify patients at risk.

In order to survive prolonged loading, cells in the tissue must switch to anaerobic metabolism. The tissue also becomes inflamed. Soetens wanted to investigate whether these two reactions are measurable on the skin. He subjected a group of healthy volunteers to controlled loading of the sacrum, the largest vertebra, which is prone to pressure ulcer development. He then monitored the release of metabolic and inflammatory biomarkers, obtained from sweat and sebum on the skin surface.

csm_Huidweefsel wordt in het laboratorium onderworpen aan trekbelasting. Foto © Jibbe Soetens
Human skin sample subjected to tensile loading in the laboratory. Photo © Jibbe Soetens

Anaerobic metabolism appears to be visible at the skin tissue via lactate and pyruvate. Inflamed skin tissue is detectable via cytokine IL-1α. These indicators are therefore suitable biomarkers for early detection of tissue damage. Cytokine IL-1α even appears to be able to identify potential patients at risk, because a certain group of patients showed an increased response from this biomarker. These results potentially enable the clinical implementation of these biomarkers as an indicator for pressure ulcers.

In addition to clinical applications, the results can also be used to improve the design of preventive measures against pressure ulcers such as matrasses and wheelchairs. Currently, their design is based on load distribution and periodic load relief. However, by focusing on the prevention of large internal deformations these measures will prove more effective.

To improve the design, Soetens had to be able to accurately predict the mechanical response of the skin. That response varies greatly depending on the type of load. Soetens, therefore, developed a model based on mechanical experiments. Skin tissue was hereby subjected to a tensile load. The model predicts skin deformations that may lead to the development of pressure ulcers. By using this model during the design of, for example, mattresses and wheelchairs, they can prevent pressure ulcers.

Cisca Wijmenga, soon to be rector in Groningen, on the means needed for a better female/male ratio.

Cisca Wijmenga RUG Groningen

On 1 September 2019, the University of Groningen will welcome its first female rector: Cisca Wijmenga (55). How does she view the position of women in the world of universities? And what does she think of the TU Eindhoven’s scheme to let only women apply for science positions for the time being?

Professor Cisca Wijmenga is completely at home walking around in ‘her’ department of Human Genetics, part of the medical faculty of the RUG. Next week, she’ll have been working there for 12 and a half years: “I’ve never worked anywhere that long before,” she laughs.

Now she is going to write history as the first-ever female rector who knows the Groningen university’s history. “In the job description for a new rector, it looked like RUG was looking for the veritiable Holy Human Grail. Of course, there is no such thing as that. After talking to some friends and with Elmer Sterken (the current rector, ed.), I decided to just give it a try.”

She was chosen as the new rector from 28 candidates. Wijmenga believes that women are less likely to apply for a job if the job requirements are very precisely defined and they do not meet all the requirements. “Even if men only meet half of all the requirements, they are already likely to think: ‘it’ll be OK’. It’s different with women.”

Lack of female role models

The fact that the emphasis is on her being a woman, is problematic for her. She prefers to be judged on her qualities instead of her gender. On the other hand, she understands and wants to use her position to set an example for other women. “Female role models in senior academic positions, that’s what’s missing in the science world.”

Figures from the  Monitor Vrouwelijke Hoogleraren (Female Professors Monitor) also demonstrate this: one in five professors in the Netherlands last year was a woman. Whereas in 2018, a small majority (53%) of graduates are women. The higher the position within a university, the fewer women there are. However, as the graphs below illustrate, there has been a sharp increase in the number of women in senior academic positions: in 2005, less than 10% of professors were women, while in 2018 this figure was around 20%.

Token Woman

There is also a great deal to be done within the RUG: the university set the target for ‘female professors’ for 2020 to 25%, but in 2018 this was still only 20%. How come women don’t go for the top jobs? Wijmenga is unable to give a clear answer to this question. “It’s a complex problem with many different sides. So I think that with the current recruitment procedures you are already losing a large number of potential female candidates. Moreover, many admission committees are made up mainly of men, which I think is detrimental to women.”

So more women in committees. Tricky, because the pond is small. Wijmenga herself has very often been asked to participate in appointment advisory committees. These kinds of advisory committees conduct interviews with candidates for a position and advise the selection committee on who is the best candidate. “It is therefore important for women to be represented on this committee, but at one point I said to the dean: don’t ask me any more, because it takes me too much time’, says the future rector. The duties were at the expense of her research, whereby that is the output on which you as a researcher are judged. “I call myself the token woman as a joke. It should not be the case that you are put on a committee just because they need a woman.”

This small pond of women in senior academic positions is due to more reasons. Wijmenga explains, for example, that the academic world makes virtually no distinction between women who work part-time and men who work full-time. “Despite the fact that women nowadays are able to clearly state why they work less. In addition, because of the small pond, women often perform extra duties, such as sitting on advisory committees. On a net basis, they have less time than their male colleagues, yet only the results are taken into account. That’s not fair.”

TU/e draws inspiration from Groningen

Within engineering, the natural sciences and agriculture, the number of women in academic positions is lower than in other scientific fields. The Technical University of Eindhoven recently took a drastic measure: as of 1 July, only women are allowed to apply for scientific positions. When a position is still open after six months, only then are men allowed to try for it.

In an interview with Innovation Origins Jan Mengelers, former chairman of the board of directors of the TU/e, reveals that the Rosalind Franklin Fellowship at the RUG was an inspiration for taking such a measure. This fund focuses specifically on women who have a doctorate and aspire to a career in science. A nice way to straighten the female/male ratio, although RUG still has a long way to go. However, Wijmenga does not believe that her university should introduce a similar rule. ” We are a very broad university, so we don’t have to take such far-reaching steps. ”

Wijmenga thinks the TU/e measure is a good thing: “They have a huge catch-up to do there. I’m sure women will apply more quickly because they know there’s no competition from men. Then men can act very pathetically and say that they are being discriminated against. Yet all this time, when women were being discriminated against, we did not hear them. I think that’s extraordinary.”

Most read this week: ‘By hiring only women, men will also benefit’

This week, the best read article on Innovations Origins was the article about the TU Eindhoven’s measure to hire only female scientists for the next eighteen months.

That’s why we took a closer look at the subject by asking an expert for her opinion: Inge Bleijenbergh, an associate professor in methodology at Radboud University, Nijmegen. She specializes in the role of gender in organizations. What does she think of this measure taken by the Eindhoven University of Technology? It’s a good idea, isn’t it?

What do you think of TU Eindhoven’s decision to hire only women over the next year and a half?

It is quite a radical measure taken by the Executive Board of the Eindhoven University of Technology. But if you consider that for the past eight years, they have not been able to attract and retain a considerable number of women, it is justified. Otherwise, the organization will systematically miss out on the scientifically talented women among the pool of graduates and PhDs.

On Twitter, people criticized the decision because they felt it discriminated young men.

It is temporary, positive discrimination within a specific target group. But in this case, it is permitted under European law because women have been extremely underrepresented within the TU’s organization for such a long time. The measure’s intention is to improve the organizational culture through a better balance between male and female values. Young men will also benefit from this when they apply for a job at the TU at the end of the eighteen month period when only women are hired. This means they will end up in a much nicer organization.

Why has TU Eindhoven failed in the past eight years to attract enough women for vacancies in the science department?

Research has shown that there is a masculine culture at universities of technology. It is more focused on ‘things’ rather than ‘relationships’. This is often the case in organizations where many STEMs work. Women frequently feel less at home there. Therefore, the TU’s problem is not only that too few women are hired for science jobs, but also that the women who do work there are more likely to leave. For example, to work in private enterprise. In order to keep them, you have to break this one-sided culture.

Do you think that this step to hire only women for a year and a half will work?

Yes, for a number of years, they have been regularly opening up ten vacancies per year for only women at the Delft University of Technology. As a result, they have received far more applications from women than usual. Women applied in large numbers because they knew they would be considered as serious candidates. Thus, TU Delft was able to see a large pool of talent that was previously invisible. This allowed them to fill vacancies that were hard to fill before. The organization has also improved in this respect.

The TU Eindhoven’s approach is more radical than that of TU Delft, because for a year and a half they will not hire any men, only women. Why?

By hiring only women for a year and a half, you drastically change the structure of the group in a short period of time. Therefore, the effect is greater than if you take a step-by-step approach.

Isn’t there a risk of resistance from men who work there and disagree with it?

It is important that the management explains why the measure is being implemented: to improve the functioning of the organization and to be able to make better use of all the technical talent that is available. As a result, men will also benefit if the organization has a more diverse structure. That’s how you encourage support.

In what way will the organization improve if more women work there than at present?

The more diverse the group, the more employees have to explain to each other what they mean. Among other thigs, this means that the thinking behind innovative product development will be better. Because different people ask different kinds of questions.

Academic vacancies at TU Eindhoven exclusively for women

TU Eindhoven © IO

TU Eindhoven is opening up vacancies for permanent academic staff exclusively to women. For the next year and a half, this will apply to 100 percent of vacancies, after which the university will review the percentage covered by the scheme each year. The measure is intended to achieve a better gender balance. In the coming years, the university will have some 150 positions to fill.

Under this scheme, female newcomers will receive an extra starter package specifically tailored to them. For each new Fellow in this program, the TU/e Board will make an additional 100,000 euros available they can use for their own research line, along with a special mentoring program for this new intake.

“We attach great importance to equal respect and opportunities for women and men,” explains Rector Frank Baaijens of TU/e. “And it has long been known that a diverse workforce performs better. It leads to better strategies, more creative ideas and faster innovation. That’s why we’ve had measures in place for years to increase the low percentage of women among our academic staff, but we’re progressing too slowly. We’re aware that we are suffering from an implicit gender bias. We are now using the fact that plans to expand our academic staff considerably in the coming years can be used as a means to make a big step forward in one fell swoop.”

This week, the TU/e Board decided to start the Irène Curie Fellowship program on 1 July. This will run for at least five years.

Vacancies for which a good female candidate has not been found within six months will be reopened outside of the program. Nevertheless, it will remain the case that the application committee must nominate at least one female candidate and one male candidate. All in all, TU/e wants at least half of all newly-appointed assistant professors to be women. The minimum for associate professors and full professors will be 35 percent.

The measure has been checked against European legislation. It allows to target recruitment from among underrepresented groups.

Irène Curie

Irène Curie (1897-1956) won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935 and was an active advocate for women’s rights in education and science. Irène Curie was the daughter of the equally famous scientist Marie Curie, the first female Nobel Prize winner. Baaijens: “Irène Curie is a symbol for the next generation of female academics that we want to attract.”